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Literature / House of Leaves

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This is not for you.
Picture that. In your dreams.

House of Leaves is a 2000 novel by Mark Z. Danielewski. It's about Johnny Truant, a tattoo shop apprentice who finds the disheveled remains of a complex manuscript one night. The manuscript contains an amateurish critical dissertation, written by a recently deceased old man allegedly named Zampanò; on the topic of a film called The Navidson Record, made by photographer Will Navidson. Although Zampanò's text refers elaborately and lovingly to existing literature, Johnny soon finds out that the vast majority of Zampanò's cited sources do not actually exist. Neither, for that matter, does the film. On top of that, Zampanò was totally blind.

The supposed plot of The Navidson Record is as follows: Will Navidson is a world-renowned photojournalist with lingering family problems, Karen Green is a former model with self-esteem issues, and Chad and Daisy are their two lovable children. Will decides to make this move-in a documentary of how he got his life back on track, and he mounts video cameras and microphones in different rooms of the house. About a month after they move in, the family goes to visit Karen's parents. When they return, there's a new addition to the house, a closet with a connecting doorway, between the master bedroom and Chad and Daisy's room. Furthermore, out of curiosity, Will measures the inside of the house compared with the outside to find out something startling: the inside is bigger than the outside by one-quarter of an inch.X


The Navidson Record has, if Zampanò's writing is to be believed, spurred countless theses and criticisms from academia, both for its moving themes and character studies but also for the perplexing riddle of the house and what it truly represents. And as Johnny cobbles together the assertions of Zampanò into a coherent narrative, adding his own thoughts and made-up ramblings and freely inserting edits into the main text, something about him starts to slip... something linked to Pelafina Heather Lièvre, a woman who was once locked up inside the Three Attic Whalestoe Institute.

House of Leaves is presented as Johnny's attempts to make sense of it all, aided by elaborate literary criticism, footnotes, references to poetry in at least half a dozen languages, as well as photographs, collages, scribblings and old letters. It was originally released, for free and incomplete, on the Internet; this release as well as its reception are addressed in later print versions of the book. Everything about the story may be seen Through the Eyes of Madness. Though considering the eyes which read it are your own...


Poe, Danielewski's sister, created a music album called Haunted which serves as a companion piece to the novel; Danielewski even appears on the album, reciting a section of the novel on her rock radio hit "Hey Pretty" and he is also featured in the song's video. The Whalestoe Letters, a companion book, was later partially included in updated reprints of House of Leaves.

Compare Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius . Not to be confused with House of Five Leaves, The House of Blue Leaves and certainly not with Dead Leaves.

Beware of spoilers, given as a lot of the experience of House of Leaves has less to do with twists in the plot and more to do with interesting and unsettling storytelling and page format — such things are generally unmarked below.

House of Leaves contains examples of:

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     A - D 
  • Abusive Parents: Pelafina, though not entirely of her own volition. Aside from trying to strangle Johnny in a fit of delusional hysteria, her later letters to him also grow distressingly manipulative and confrontational.
  • Act of True Love: Karen facing down her deepest fears and traumas to enter the labyrinth one final time and save her husband at the end certainly counts, and is noted as such by Zampanò. One of his cited sources speculates that she physically could not have made this decision if she hadn't made "A Brief History of Who I Love" earlier, as it allowed her to gain a new perspective on her husband that made her realize how much she really does love and need him.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Zampanò references a play that reimagines the story of the Minotaur so that the monster is actually a disabled boy locked away by his cruel stepfather Minos. Theseus is portrayed as a stupid, violent thug who brutally murders an innocent. Johnny has a hallucination in which he's the Minotaur and is being attacked by a drunk frat boy with an axe, clearly a modern-day version of that Theseus.
  • Agent Scully: Most of the media and academic figures interviewed in the "What Some Have Thought" interlude take it at face value that The Navidson Record is fake and the house must be symbolic of something. The only exceptions are Karen's architect friend, who is mainly just mystified at the physics of it, Stephen King, who wants to visit it, and Hunter S. Thompson, who evidently had a very similar reaction to Johnny.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Holloway's death is treated very somberly, as despite being a murderer it's made clear that the house preyed on his feelings of inadequacy to drive him insane. In his final moments he regains lucidity and is overcome by remorse for his actions, and his last words are a desperate assertion of his own identity against the advancing darkness before he commits suicide.
  • Alien Geometries: Eventually Navidson realizes that, somehow, no matter how he measures, the inside of the house is one-quarter inch larger than the outside. Then it turns into 5/16 of an inch. Then that 5/16 corrects itself. Then everything goes to hell.
  • All-Loving Hero: Will's experiences photographing war zones have given him an appreciation for all human life, something which Karen realizes while editing a short biography of him which prompts her to rekindle their relationship.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Jennifer Antipala, Karen's architect friend, who is fast talking, high strung, immediately accepting of the truth of the house, gets distracted mid-interview to perform calculations on a piece of paper, and has little sense of personal space.
  • Ambiguous Ending: For Johnny. It is mentioned that he disappeared, but his final chapter, while ending on a cautiously hopeful but crushingly melancholic note, does nothing to clear up his eventual fate. A common theory supposes that he either ceases to exist here, or never existed to begin with.
  • Ambiguously Human: Johnnie has had plastic surgery to the point of Body Horror and can casually toss a dog with enough force to shatter its skull. It's implied she might be some manifestation of the Minotaur, but that's assuming that she exists to begin with.
  • Anachronic Order: Used with dizzying effects in Johnny's final footnotes. They camouflage the fact that he goes back and writes the introduction to the book, then hits rock bottom, says goodbye to Thumper and finds some form of salvation after finding a band who has read his now-published writings, saying, "It's going to be alright. It's going to be alright."
  • And I Must Scream: One of Navidson's dreams puzzled over by student papers is an afterlife of a giant, featureless room and a well of water, populated by scared men and women. Navidson sees someone gather enough courage and jump into the water - where he's deemed good enough to be taken away to the real afterlife. But if you're a sinner, all you do is sink, down and down, into where light cannot go. Forever.
  • Antagonist Title: Applies if you consider the house to be a character.
  • Anticlimax: What lies at the bottom of the Spiral Staircase? More hallways.
  • Apocalyptic Log: The whole of The Navidson Record, or perhaps the entirety of the book, could qualify.
  • Arc Number: Johnny implies briefly that nine is this to him near the end, though he doesn't seem to mention it elsewhere. He might be on to something, though - he calculates the digital root for the date to find 9, and if you do the same to his birthday, you also find 9.
  • Arc Words: "Delial". It's the name of the starving, near-death child in Navidson's career-making photograph.
  • Artistic License – Physics: Discussed in-universe when Karen interviews an architect who goes off on a long ramble about how impossible the labyrinth is, just as an architectural structure. For example, if it's so massive, how does it support its own weight, especially since its parts are constantly moving? And is it large enough to have its own gravitational pull, like a planet?
  • Auto Erotica: Johnny has sex with Kyrie in her expensive BMW while parked on a ledge overlooking the rest of LA.
  • Ax-Crazy: Holloway, who is driven to violent madness by the house and eventually kills one of his fellow explorers.
  • Beast in the Maze: The mysterious beast that stalks the explorers of the house, which quickly reveals itself to be an Eldritch Location that twists and changes around them and is compared to a labyrinth. What the beast could be, is left ambiguous. The various theories in and out of universe call it a (or maybe the) minotaur, a personification of the house, or an Animalistic Abomination.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: One could interpret the house's behavior as a sort of twisted wish fulfillment. Holloway wanted an ultimate adventure and to be remembered - he got it, and lost his life and sanity in the process, while also becoming infamous as a murderer. At least in the world of the book. Tom wanted to be as respected as his Pulitzer prize winning brother. After the house killed him, Will lamented about his failure to save Delial and saw Tom as a hero. The Navidsons wanted to come together as a family, the house terrorized them until they ultimately did. The children were traumatized in the process and Will lost a limb and parts of his face to frostbite, but you can't deny that they were together in the end.
  • Bedlam House: Johnny's mother describes the Three Attic Whalestoe Institute as one of these in her letters.
  • Beige Prose: Occasional, used for contrast. See "A Poe t"'s comments on A Partial Transcript Of What Some Have Thought.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Holloway commits suicide with his gun in order to not get killed by the Minotaur, after he accidentally murdered Jed, ran off and got lost in the maze, and just before the Minotaur is about to close in on him.
  • Big Fancy House: Really, really big. Like, impossibly big. Like older than the solar system big.
  • Bigger on the Inside:
    • Played straight by the house, which starts off the inner-most plot.
    • Also subverted. Tom's base is a tent with meager supplies, and actual base consists of the Navidson estate.
    • The hardcover book itself is bigger on the inside. The cover is smaller than the pages.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Many occurrences, either to parody the frequent use of foreign languages in academic writing or to simply add confusion to the text. For example, Johnny states that he can't speak Latin, yet is able to allude to a Latin phrase later on. Zampanò provides a series of quotes he claims to be slightly different, but which are actually identical in meaning.
    • Some of the translations of footnotes have obvious differences from the original, such as missing the last sentence.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Kyrie seems to be much nicer and more intelligent than Johnny's usual lays, until it's revealed that she's the one who sicced Gdansk Man on him and Lude, telling him that Johnny hit on her despite the fact that Kyrie came on to him first.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Navidsons' story ends this way. After surviving the horrors of the titular house, while Will is permanently disabled, multiple other characters are dead, and Will and Karen might never forget their horrific experience, the Navidson family grows closer, to the point where Will and Karen officially marry. Even lampshaded when it's mentioned that, despite showing them getting married, Will's physical disabilities are pointed out, and it can't truly be called a happy ending.
  • Bizarrchitecture: The house.
    • Especially behind that one door that leads into the maze. Hallways that can go on almost forever - and adjust to the expectations of who enters them. The hallways are also continually rearranging themselves.
    • The first sign things are about to get really creepy, at the beginning of the book: a closet room suddenly appears between two other rooms in the house, where there wasn't one before. Freaks Will and Karen out big time; but then they discover the maze and it gets taken Up to Eleven.
  • Book Dumb: Lude.
    Johnny: Lude's the type of guy who thinks 'sublime' is something you choke on after a shot of tequila.
  • Bottomless Pit: The final form taken by the labyrinth in Exploration #5. Tom falls into one earlier when the house starts freaking out.
  • Break the Haughty: The house has a way of destroying people's self-conceptions. Let's review...
    • Will Navidson, world famous photojournalist and Vietnam vet, dating a supermodel, whose narcissism is subtle but corrosive to everyone around him. Over the course of his odyssey he completely loses control of nearly everything in his life, starting with the very space he lives in, progressing to his brother, his lover, his children, his profession, and finally pieces of his own body. He lives and makes some sort of peace with himself, but at the end is a deeply humbled and traumatized man.
    • Karen Green, considered one of the most beautiful people on earth, whose own narcissism more than matches Navidson's, causing mutual isolation and strife in their relationship which catches almost everyone around them in the crossfire, most notably their children. The traumatic events she endures break down her emotional barriers and cause her to finally admit to herself how much she needs Navidson. At the end of the film, they've finally stopped dancing around the issue and are Happily Married.
    • Holloway Roberts, an intensely proud and competitive man who butts heads with Navidson over control of the explorations and whose only real goal is to conquer the house the same way he'd conquer any other mountain or cave system. He soon learns he's bitten off more than he can chew, and his lack of control over the situation draws out his long-simmering feelings of worthlessness and humiliation, driving him to a pointless, self-destructive frenzy.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall:
    • In the middle of one of his crazed ramblings, Truant begins to suspect that he, Zampanò, and the Navidsons don't really exist and have been created by the house in some way. That sound you hear is the author laughing to himself.
    • At one point toward the end of the book, Navidson begins reading the book. The book you're reading. The book that talks about Navidson reading a book. Navidson finishes the book before the book finishes.
    • Narrator Johnny at one point tells the reader he just totally made up his last few entries. And mocks you because you should have noticed the conspicuous lack of swear words in those entries, that should have given away they're fake!
  • Breather Episode: The transcript of What Some Have Thought is considerably lighter in tone than most other parts of the book. It's stated that the scene was included in theatrical releases of The Navidson Record, but later demoted to DVD extras because it was too much of a Breather Episode and took the audience right out of the horror atmosphere (and was considered too self-referential).
  • Bring My Brown Pants:
    • Tom, to cheer himself up inside the labyrinth, tells himself the joke this trope is named after.
    • Subverted for Johnny, who narrates being attacked by something while working in the tattoo shop and during this attack, pooping and peeing in his pants in fear; then turns out the Brown Note part of the story didn't happen after all and he just imagined that (whether the Monster (attack) is real or not, is left ambiguous). Around this time it should be getting obvious Johnny is an Unreliable Narrator...
  • Broken Ace: Will Navidson is a handsome, charismatic, and brave man acclaimed the world over for his completely peerless photojournalism, dating someone who might as well be the World's Most Beautiful Woman, but even before things go out of control he's secretly a mess of depression, neuroses, trauma, commitment issues, and unchecked narcissistic tendencies which are slowly but surely tearing his life apart. Only after a lot more suffering inflicted upon him by his new place of residence does he start to improve.
  • Brown Note: Anyone who is vaguely connected to the house, even the Sheriff who tries to find Holloway and denies seeing the hallway, has tinnitus, at the very least. It's also noted that experience with the house eventually results in one of two extremes: either great personal improvement or, well... look at what happened to Johnny. There's an actual 1-10 rating scale (based on physiological and psychological effects the House has on a person) to rate the effects of the house has on people depending on exposure... and "anyone" includes you.
  • The Cameo: "A Poe t" in the "What Some Have Thought" interlude is implied to be Mark Z. Danielewski's sister, singer-songwriter Anne Danielewski, stage name Poe.
  • The Casanova:
    • Lude. Truant even spies on him, and there is an extremely large list of his one-night stands... which is then followed by a list of the various ways in which all of the people of the list might have had their lives ruined. The book is just messed up like that.
    • Johnny seems to rack 'em up. Keep in mind that Johnny is the one telling his story.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Karen's bookshelf. Early on, displacing a book would cause others to fall over, only to be stopped by the opposite wall. Later on, however, displacing the same book causes the rest to fall onto the floor, proving to Karen that the house is capable of changing its dimensions.
    • Subverted and probably lampshaded when Johnny, in his paranoia, buys a bunch of actual guns, but never uses them for anything.
  • Classical Anti-Hero: Johnny is a paranoid, mentally ill slacker who deliberately wastes his life trying to get as fucked up as he can and is at times quite difficult to sympathize with.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Page 100. In French, too.
    Johnny Truant: Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck you. Fuck me. Fuck this. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
  • Color Motif: Blue and black for the house, red for the Minotaur, purple for Pelafina.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Zampanò fits the character type, with his tendency to prefer the incredible to the mundane; for example, he's more willing to accept the stairway is deeper than the Earth is wide than he is to just check his math.
  • Conveniently Interrupted Document: Very frequently, with Johnny spilling ink on the pages of the manuscript or things like that. Interestingly, information which isn't important to the plot also sometimes gets damaged as well.
  • Cool House: Navidson certainly thinks so. The kids seem to agree. It certainly is, impossibly, endlessly incomprehensibly big...
  • Cosmic Horror Story: The Navidson Record is, at least. Johnny's story could be this, but it's likely that it isn't.
  • Covers Always Lie: The reviews on the back of the book about this "funny, moving, sexy" romance. Or maybe we're all missing the point of this love story by making it out to be horrifying. According to the author:
    "I had one woman come up to me in a bookstore and say, 'You know, everyone told me it was a horror book, but when I finished it, I realized that it was a love story.' And she's absolutely right. In some ways, genre is a marketing tool."
  • Creepy Child: "Daddy, I wanna play hallways!" And other instances; for example, at school all the kids are told to draw their houses. The Navidson children turn in pieces of paper that they colored several coats of black, with monsters in the margins. They have more at home. They're completely black.
  • Cunning Linguist:
    • Pelafina, who writes in French, Latin, Old English, and Greek at different points. She passed at least some of this on to Johnny, who is shown to remember several phrases in Latin despite suppressing his knowledge of the language as part of his effort to escape his past.
    • There's also Zampanò, who, though he needs translators for several parts including the Greek and Latin sections, is extremely fluent in French, English, and Spanish, and has a reasonable grasp of German. Because nothing in this book is a coincidence, it's another hint at the strange relationship he has with Johnny and Pelafina.
  • Dark and Troubled Past:
    • Johnny's father died in a plane crash when he was a child, his schizophrenic mother spilled cooking oil on him and permanently scarred his arms, she later attempted to strangle him and was sent to an insane asylum, his foster family abused him leading him to become a delinquent who constantly got in fights, and he was eventually sent to a boarding school in Alaska where he almost drowned on a fishing boat.
    • Will and Tom Navidson grew up in an abusive household and ended up coping in different ways, with Tom becoming a transient alcoholic and Will becoming a serial thrill seeker. Will suffered further emotional blows photographing various atrocities and disasters around the world, culminating in his Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of "Delial", a starving child whom he feels he allowed to die, which he is still trying to atone for years later.
    • Karen was molested by her stepfather and continues to have crippling claustrophobia as a result.
    • Zampanò's past is the most mysterious by far, but it's apparent that he was traumatized fighting in Vietnam and has had his heart broken many times.
  • Dark Is Evil: The "Minotaur" enjoys tormenting Jed, nearly leads Navidson into an endless pit, drives Holloway to insanity and eats his corpse, and nearly does the same to Navidson on his final journey.
  • Darkness Equals Death: Literally. When Holloway dies, the darkness descends on him and consumes him. Zampanò is extremely vague about the process itself - whether the shadows just fall on his body, or literally rip the flesh from his bones.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Reston faces the madness of his situation with dry, acerbic wit and doesn't suffer fools gladly.
  • Deaf Composer: Zampanò, a blind movie reviewer.
  • Delinquents: Johnny was one in his youth. Constantly getting into fights, in and out of various abusive foster homes and boarding schools, and implied to be sexually active at a distressingly early age, it's safe to say that a lot of his current mental instability stems from this time.
  • Deus ex Machina: House of Leaves is a book in the book. Navidson burns it to help him survive his final trek.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: Done several times:
    • Zampanò's certain that, despite the Navidsons surviving the ordeal of the house and their relationships considerably strengthened, that something dark happened to them after they moved out.
    • Zampanò's heart attack/death at the hands of what might just be the House taking its revenge.
    • Johnny's psych-out on the reader after claiming that a friend checked in on him, took him in, and got him clean and straight... nope. Everything, instead, got worse.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Johnny never gets to be with Thumper.
  • Direct Line to the Author: The story is entirely based around the idea that the reader is reading a manuscript found by the editor — who tells his own story in footnotes, including events that reference the effect of the book on the real world and an encounter with the author's sister's band, Poe, who released an album "Haunted" from the point of view of one of the characters of the story. There are further layers to this metaphysical tale, and it includes and subverts any number of science fiction, horror and fiction tropes. There's also the author of the manuscript's claim that not only is The Navidson Record real, despite the editor's insistence that no such documentary exists, but also that the characters are real people and that Karen was the one who arranged for the tapes to be compiled. And then, in the last appendix of the book, there are pictures that imply that Zampanò might be right and The Navidson Record might actually be real.
  • Dirty Old Man: Downplayed with Zampanò, who insists on exclusively being read to by attractive young women, but never comes onto them. It's really just a way for him to try and alleviate some of his crushing loneliness.
  • Distressed Damsel: Daisy's scenes during Navidson's explorations. Oh, boy.
  • Documentary of Lies: The In-Universe reviewers who theorize endlessly about The Navidson Record, or are consulted about its content, take it entirely for granted that it's this trope. Except for Stephen King, who wants to visit the house. The main thing that makes those reviewers believe it's fake is the labyrinth, because no way that could be real... Right?
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Holloway and Pelafina.
    • A report notes that three people who became overly fixated on The Navidson Record ended up committing suicide. Which doesn't bode well for Johnny...
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Tom Navidson, who disappears suddenly when the house decides to go completely insane and actively, aggressively attack the family.
  • Dying Alone:
    • Zampanò passes away one night in his apartment, and as he has no friends or family the body isn't noticed for days and the only person who takes an interest in his life is one young Mr. Johnathan Truant. Unfortunately for him.
    • After killing or driving away the rest of the exploration team in his madness, Holloway finds himself trapped in a locked room and records one last guilt-ridden, borderline incoherent farewell to his camera before committing suicide.

     E - J 
  • Easter Egg: Many acronyms hidden in the text.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Despite all that the Navidsons go through, they ultimately live to tell the tale, and are closer as a family because of it. Despite Zampanò dying, he still finishes his paper, and even though Johnny was on the brink of death, he appears to have recovered if his final words are true. Sadly, it's highly likely that they aren't.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Implied. Remember that point behind your head in the introduction to this page?
  • Eldritch Location: The house, of course. It's Bigger on the Inside, and appears to be a Genius Loci that likes intentionally screwing with people.
  • Enfant Terrible: Despite being an Ultimate Evil who likely doesn't even exist, the Minotaur receives a symbolic association with this trope from Zampanò, who goes on a lengthy digression about the mythical Minotaur's origins as the deformed and estranged son of the Queen of Crete. This becomes important in Johnny's story when he starts taking on aspects of the Minotaur.
  • Epic Movie: If The Navidson Record includes everything Zampanò says it does, the film would have to be, at minimum, five hours long.
  • Erotic Dream: Painstakingly detailed ones at that...
  • Even the Girls Want Her: Karen (a former model) is described as so beautiful that she's constantly hit on, especially during her interviews, where both men and women try to ask her on a date.
  • Even the Subtitler Is Stumped: The captions for Holloway's heavily garbled Apocalyptic Log apparently contain question marks where his speech becomes too incoherent to transcribe.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": No one knows the Gdansk Man's real name. He's just called the Gdansk Man.
  • Evil Is Deathly Cold: It's always precisely 32.7 degrees Fahrenheit inside the labyrinth. After his last exploration, Navidson spends a week in a coma and loses parts of his face because of hypothermia.
  • Extreme Mêlée Revenge: Gdansk Man wreaks this on Lude, and Johnny in turn does to this Gdansk Man.
  • Fan Disservice: Johnny's sexual conquests are described in rather graphic detail, but most are too sad, too creepy, too abstract, or too all three at once to get much eroticism out of.
  • Fantasy Americana: It takes place entirely in the United States and not only features strong and undeniable supernatural elements, but takes great care to give them mythic weight and resonance.
  • Fatal Family Photo: Jed Leeder is introduced with mention of his fiancee. Naturally, he dies first.
  • Fauxreigner: Is Zampanò French, Portuguese, or Spanish? He recites the names of French positions at Dien Bien Phu lost to the Viet Minh, suggesting that he was in the French Foreign Legion and therefore a Frenchman of foreign birth.
  • Fetal Position Rebirth: Navidson is spat out this way, naked and frostbitten, when Karen finds him in the void that once was the labyrinth. The symbolism here would seem to scan with Camille Paglia's earlier analysis of the house as representing "the feminine void".
  • Fetish Retardant: Used deliberately with "Johnnie", a porn star who's had so much work done she barely looks human.
  • Fictional Document: The Navidson Record, most of the references (lampshaded, but also subverted when some of the references turn out to be real books), the book itself.
  • Fictional Media: To a ridiculous extent that could pass as a parody or Deconstruction. The entire book is a Fictional Document analyzing another unpublished Fictional Document commentating on a fictional film. Note that all of Zampanò's work is fictional in-universe, as well, to the great confusion of the editors and Johnny Truant.
  • Filk Song: Danielewski's sister, recording artist Poe, released the album Haunted as a companion piece, and includes songs named "Exploration B", "Dear Johnny" and "5&1/2 Minute Hallway". It's half Filk Album and half tribute to her late father.
  • The Film of the Book: Averted — Danielewski has received numerous option offers (often proposing quite generous sums), but has refused all of them, mostly on the grounds that the various studios' proposals for how to adapt the book tend to miss the point (such as by adapting only Navidson's story, and omitting Johnny, Zampanò etc., altogether).
  • Foil: Navidson seems deliberately constructed as a sort of antithesis for Johnny: Johnny is young while Navidson is middle aged, Johnny's a womanizer in love with one woman while Navidson is faithful to his wife despite being tempted by other women, Johnny's a childless orphan while Navidson is a struggling father, Johnny's a mediocre tattoo artist while Navidson is a world renowned photographer, Johnny's Sanity Slippage is expressed through writing while Navidson's is expressed through filmmaking, Johnny lives on the west coast while Navidson lives on the east, et cetera et cetera.
  • Footnote Fever: You've got footnotes from Johnny Truant, Zampanò and other editors, plus footnotes within footnotes within footnotes, in one part even making an entire "window" in the book. Soon after that window, the footnotes start going off in weird angles and, should you actually bother to follow, forming actual labyrinths. Some footnotes are re-referenced hundreds of pages later, and some of the more important ones get their own symbols.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The book continuously tells you that Navidson made it out of the house to edit the footage together.
  • Foreshadowing: Early in the book, Johnny and Lude go to a wild house party where the first thing they see is a motorcycle crashed into a pool and two dudes shoving coke up a passed out woman's nose, causing Johnny to remark that Lude probably doesn't think too much about death. Lude ultimately dies in a motorcycle crash because he did too much coke at a party and decided to go for a joyride.
  • Found Footage Films: The Navidson Record bears many traits of this genre. Although it was not exactly "found", considering that Navidson and Karen did survive to tell (and edit the footage of) the tale.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: Neither fourth wall will. Johnny slowly goes insane as he reads more and more of Zampanò's notes. And many Tropers can attest to the fact that the book is pure Paranoia Fuel.
  • Framing Device: Johnny's notes and commentary start out as this, but as they intrude farther into the main text they arguably become the chief plot thread of the novel.
  • Freudian Slip: Thematically significant typos are practically a Creator Thumbprint for Zampanò. Examples include replacing "density" with "destiny" in a digression about physics and writing in first person when he should be writing in third person.
  • Genius Loci: The house itself is in some way alive and intelligent. And not particularly friendly at that.
  • Genre-Busting:
    • "Postmodern horror" kind of sums it up, but that totally leaves out the elements of romance, satire, religious allegory, Greek tragedy, and family psychodrama that are also integral components of the story. The book, quite aptly, has a habit of escaping its boundaries.
    • The Navidson Record itself is said to fall under this, which Zampanò describes in an early passage which also signals to the reader that this is not just a horror novel.
      "If finally catalogued as a gothic tale, contemporary urban folkmyth, or merely a ghost story, as some have called it, the documentary will still, sooner or later, slip the limits of any one of those genres. Too many important things in The Navidson Record jut out past the borders. Where one might expect horror, the supernatural, or traditional paroxysms of dread and fear, one discovers disturbing sadness, a sequence on radioactive isotopes, or even laughter over a Simpsons episode."
  • Glory Hound: Holloway's motivation for exploring the labyrinth is mostly so he can get a place in the history books.
  • God Is Evil: Navidson opines in his farewell letter to Karen that their house is God, and there's honestly very little reason to doubt him.
  • Going by the Matchbook: One of the countless reviewers of The Navidson Record thought that he could locate the house via a screencap of Navidson's matchbook. Nope. It merely led him to a bar in England which Navidson has visited years ago.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: There are entire paragraphs written entirely in German and French throughout the book, as well as untranslated chunks of The Divine Comedy and bits of Latin and Greek, plus various others. Johnny even comments on the pretentiousness of Zampanò dropping in bits of foreign language where they don't seem to serve any purpose other than making him look erudite.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Raymond, who would evidently threaten to murder Johnny for misbehaving on a regular basis.
  • Handicapped Badass: Reston faces the impossible labyrinth with fearlessness and determination, not even being dissuaded by the prospect of having to drag himself down the spiral staircase with just his arms. He even squeezes off some return fire when Holloway comes hunting after them.
  • Hate Sink: Raymond, Johnny's foster father, who in contrast to the other human antagonists is a fairly uncomplicated abuser. There's also Gdansk Man, who as far as we see is just a violent, vindictive asshole.
  • Haunted House: The house on Ash Tree Lane is one of the most horrifying in literature, not just because the labyrinth within it constantly changes form, not just because it's heavily implied to have a mind of its own, but because we never figure exactly what it is that is haunting the house. Maybe it's the Minotaur. Maybe it's the Navidson family. Maybe it's you.
  • He Who Must Not Be Seen: The minotaur is never shown to either the characters or the audience, with the only indication that it even exists being the horrific growl heard inside the labyrinth and the apparent destruction of any object that gets left behind. As a matter of fact, Zampanò seems to have made a concerted effort to erase any evidence of its existence at all. Seeing as its defining aspects, as described by Johnny, are darkness, silence, and the obliteration of meaning, it wouldn't make sense for it to ever appear; it's quite literally the metaphysical incarnation of nothing.
  • The Hedonist: Johnny and Lude seemingly live only to have sex with as many women and consume as many mind-altering substances as they can.
  • Hidden Depths: Johnny, for all of his self-destructive behaviour and ignorance to higher learning, knows a lot about art, poetry and mathematics.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Thumper, though she's just a stripper. She's still the most caring and dependable friend Johnny has.
  • Hope Spot: When Johnny comes across his two doctor friends who take him in and nurse him back to health. Except that was just a lie. Or was it?
    • Also when Navidson miraculously escapes the labyrinth on his own and the family makes preparations to leave once and for all. And then the house takes a turn for the possessive.invoked
    • A little before that is the bit where Navidson and Reston unexpectedly find Jed and Wax. Jed had been convinced he was about to die and was overjoyed to see friendly faces coming to rescue him. A second later, Holloway's bullet rips through his skull.
  • Hot-Blooded: Johnny, especially in his youth, a trait he evidently inherited from his mother.
  • A House Divided: Soon after discovery, Navidson's lover begins to snap and fight with Navidson, Navidson's associates begin arguing constantly (to the point that one of them goes completely nuts), and the children get more violent.
  • Hypocrite: Karen's friend notes that she would freak out and throw tantrums whenever Navidson left her alone for even short periods of time, but had no problem leaving him for another man when he began obsessing over his research.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • Zampanò alleges that the Weinstein brothers left a particular sequence out of the theatrical cut of The Navidson Record because it was too self-referential. This, in a book where half the book is just one character commenting on the other half.
    • And then there's Johnny's lengthy rant after discovering the "ftaires" document (see That Was the Last Entry below), complaining about how old timey people use "f" instead of "s" (actually "'ſ'", an archaic form of "s"), and over the course of which he gradually beginf to replace more and more of his "s"s with "f"s until the final fentence contains no correctly typed "s"f at all. Made somewhat unfettling by the fact that he appearf to be doing thif involuntarily and without realizing it.
  • Infanticide: At least attempted. According to parts of Johnny's and Pelafina's narration, Pelafina tried to strangle Johnny (her son) to death when the latter was a child and his father had to stop her. Due to no narrator being reliable, this either was just attempted, or never happened at all, or was actually fully carried out so Johnny died and doesn't really exist as a narrator. note 
  • Inferiority Superiority Complex: The burnt pages analyzing Holloway's past mention that he had frequently been in therapy for suicidal ideations, and used his mountaineering and hunting activities as a way to cope. The house takes this from him, as his inability to conquer or even understand it wrecks whatever passed for his self-worth, quickly driving him to homicidal rage when Jed and Wax refuse to follow him deeper into the labyrinth.
  • Insane Equals Violent: Played more or less straight with Pelafina and Holloway.
  • Interface Screw: See "Footnote Fever." Also some pages are backwards or upside down.
  • In the Doldrums: The interior of the house.
    "The walls are endlessly bare. Nothing hangs on them, nothing defines them. They are without texture. Even to the keenest eye or most sentient fingertip, they remain unreadable. You will never find a mark there. No trace survives. The walls obliterate everything. They are permanently absolved of all record. Oblique, forever obscure and unwritten. Behold the perfect pantheon of absence."
  • It's All About Me: Johnny not only admits to punching up some details to Zampanò's manuscript, but keeps intruding on the research to tell stories of his escapades.
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: One where the instructions are in a different language, half the pieces have been burned or thrown into the garbage, and it's all related to you through the filter of several increasingly delusional narrators.
  • Jitter Cam: Zampanò mentions that this trope is averted whenever Will Navidson himself was filming, him being an expert photo- and cinematographer and all. Naturally, the quality of the framing rapidly diminishes whenever anyone else is doing the filming.

     K - O 
  • Kavorka Man: Johnny is a skinny drug addict with serious mental health issues and gigantic burn scars on his arms, but women just seem to throw themselves at him.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • Almost literally. Johnny finds a stray Pekingese dog, and one of his off-again on-again female "friends", a spoiled Valley Girl Rich Bitch, coos over it and promises she'll take care of it and takes it home. No sooner than her overpriced car zooms past Johnny, she hurls the dog out the window past him, crushing half its skull.
    • The minotaur or whatever it was that killed Zampanò apparently went out of its way to systematically kill and mutilate his cats first.
  • Kill It with Fire: The house, if you read into the subtext. In context, it's outright stated someone tried to burn the Navidson house down after it was sealed off — it failed.
  • Kind Hearted Cat Lover: Zampanò, when he was alive, would spend every morning walking the courtyard of his apartment building and petting the stray cats who gathered there.
  • Ladykiller in Love: Serial womanizer Johnny Truant falls hopelessly in love with Thumper.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: Anne Rice, Stephen King, Harold Bloom, Steve Wozniak, Walter Mosley, Stanley Kubrick and Camille Paglia among others...
  • Leave the Camera Running: Navidson is described as doing this more than once, a notable example being the 46 seconds following Holloway's death, which makes his sudden disappearance as the house consumes him before the viewers' very eyes all the more frightening.
  • Left Hanging:
    • Johnny's story is never resolved, opting to dissolve into his insane mother's letters to him. As for Navidson's story, averted - but Zampanò really thinks there was something more to his happy ending.
    • In one part of the book, Johnny specifically brings up his friend, Trenton, and then oddly remarks that he "is an old friend who doesn't live here and who I've not mentioned before." That leads into a footnote, which is composed entirely of blank lines. Trenton is never brought up again. Like every odd throwaway detail, this has led to a number of off-the-wall theories.
  • Lemony Narrator:
    • Johnny, who, if not having a nervous breakdown every other page, is making darkly sardonic quips, off-the-wall theories on everything, and peppering Zampano's notes with "fun facts" that are more disturbing than fun, when it's not mixed in with sarcasm.
    • Even Johnny's editor gets on it, by leaving deadpan, dry rebuttals to some of Johnny's more screwball theories.
  • Living Labyrinth: The house seems to be one.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: People from a Sheriff trying to search for Navidson after he goes missing, college kids basing their undergrad thesis on various interpretations of Navidson's dreams, real world people like Steve Wozniak and Camile Paglia, and various people Johnny has run-ins with - they number well over thirty. And if you're counting all the people, real and fictional, the book mentions, then chapter IX alone sends the number well above a thousand.
  • Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places: Johnny Truant. It comes to a point he's interrupting the narrative just to describe whatever girl he last nailed, and starts obsessing over Lude's own sexual escapades.
  • Mad Artist: Johnny Truant, a tattoo artist with a poetic streak whose mind starts to fall apart when confronted with the mystery of The Navidson Record.
  • Madness Mantra:
    • "I'm Holloway Roberts. Born in Menomonie, Wisconsin..."
    • "forgivemeforgivemeforgivemeforgiveme"
    • The New Director. The New Director. The New Director. The new Director. the New director. The new director.
    • "Johnny, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny..."
  • Malevolent Architecture: The house again. Notice a pattern?
  • Magic Realism: To an extent. While the characters recognize something is clearly very wrong with the house, Zampanò prefers to discuss what is going on in the characters' heads in long narrative sections, which Johnny notes several times are actually not very academic or factual.
  • Mainstream Obscurity: The Navidson Record is stated In-Universe to be subject to this. It had an extremely limited theatrical run and was only a modest success on home video, but it rapidly came to be regarded as a towering masterwork of American cinema, with every single frame of it painstakingly dissected, analyzed, and debated by legions of critics and academics with more obsession and passion than the Bible and the Zapruder Film put together.
  • Mama Bear: Zigzagged with Pelafina, who in her more lucid moments is fiercely protective of Johnny, but was sent to the Whalestoe Institute in the first place because she tried to strangle him to death in her madness.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: To an extent that pervades the entire work. It's possible that Zampanò completely made up The Navidson Record, but that doesn't account for the scratches on his apartment floor, or the disappearance of the cats, or the "Contrary Evidence" appendix whose most shocking detail is a still from The Navidson Record. And that's just getting started.
    • At one point Johnny hallucinates himself being attacked and strangled by... something in the attic of the tattoo parlor. But if it was just a hallucination, why are there huge red handprints on his neck?
    • In one of her letters, Pelafina casts a curse on Johnny's stepfather Raymond after she learns of him sending Johnny to the hospital. Shortly afterwards, Johnny runs away and Raymond dies of cancer, but it's not made clear if the curse actually worked or if it was just coincidence.
  • Meaningful Echo: The events in Johnny's life that he writes as asides mirror the contents of The Navidson Record. When Will starts opening up about his true feelings and his one failure in life, Johnny starts writing less pompously and opens up about his mother, leading to The Whalestoe Letters in one of the Appendices. When the creature in the hallways is first discussed, Johnny is attacked by some presence late at night at the tattoo shop. There's also several other narrative parallels between Johnny and the Navidsons, as well as Johnny and Pelafina, that fill in some narrative gaps.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Holloway Roberts: "hollow way" = "hallow way" = "hallway" = "always" = "all ways"), as well as, in the burned sections, "Hollow[ ]" and "Hol[ ]y".
    • House of Leaves. "Leaves" = "pages," thus the house is the book and / or vice versa. Also, "leaves" as a verb is alluded to, and a French letter in the appendix (uncredited) speaks of leaves as memories.
    • Lude, presumably named after quaaludes. Also a homophone for "lewd."
    • Surprisingly, the names of Hillary and Mallory, the Navidson family's husky and cat, respectively. Hillary can refer to Sir Edmund Hillary, an explorer who braved Mount Everest and survived. Mallory can refer to George Mallory, who also attempted to climb Everest. Much like the cat, he also disappeared unexpectedly.
    • The Whalestoe institute Pelafina is in (and by extension the companion short novel The Whalestoe Letters). It is an anagram of "Whose tale"?, indicating the mysteriousness of Pelafina as a character, and the unclear nature of her relationship with Zampanò.
    • The house itself is stated to be located on the corner of Ash Tree and Succoth. An ash tree is a type of giant tree which in old Norse belief was associated with the World Tree Yggdrasil, while Succoth is a Jewish holiday marking the end of the harvest season, observance of which involves dwelling in a type of temporary housing called a succah, the roof of which is notably mandated to be constructed of leaves. Makes you wonder what the street planners knew.
  • Mind Screw: The book will screw with you on every conceivable level.
  • Misery Builds Character: The Navidsons go through absolute hell in the titular House, but they become closer as a family because of it.
  • Motifs: Absolutely fucking riddled with them. The book can best be described as a labyrinth constructed by a semiotician. A nonexhaustive list of the most obvious ones:
    • Hallways, staircases, spirals, empty rooms, windows, echoes, and, of course, darkness. The essential components of the house, which haunt every level of the narrative from The Navidson Record upwards.
    • Claws, horns, and growls, associated with the Minotaur.
    • Navidson and his family, in contrast to the house, are associated with light, a natural extension of his career in photography.
    • Johnny is strongly associated with nautical and oceanic imagery, with the scars on his arms being compared to ocean waves and many of his digressions concerning boats in some way. Johnny himself is a transient who spent a considerable part of his childhood on an Alaskan fishing boat, and as a young adult he sailed to Europe where he lived as a nomad for a time. Later, he starts taking on aspects of the Minotaur as his state of mind degenerates, culminating in his brutal assault on Gdansk Man and Kyrie (who can be read as stand-ins for Theseus and Ariadne, if one goes by the dream sequence he has late in the novel).
    • The color blue is associated with the house, but also shows up in other contexts which seem conceptually opposed to it (e.g, Karen's blue halogen light guiding Navidson back to the real world at the end, Zampanò's mention of "this great blue world" in the poem that gives the book its title). Red is associated with the Minotaur, as well as with things that the author(s) wished to delete from the narrative but left in (similar to the mythical Minotaur's status as an unwanted child). Purple shows up only once in the narrative proper, and seems to be associated with Pelafina.
    • Trees are symbolically connected to the house as well, but also show up in less sinister contexts like Zampanò's love poem "You Shall Be My Roots" and the Yggdrasil poem in the back of the book.
    • There's also an odd association with holidays, such as the essay being completed on Christmas or the film itself ending on Halloween.
    • Contents escaping their containers, which mirrors the unnatural dimensions of the house. Examples range from an overfull coffee cup to the increasingly sprawling and intrusive footnotes.
    • Cats are associated with Johnny, Pelafina, and Zampanò, helping to symbolically connect them as a family. In the latter's case Johnny compares them to his memories, and Zampanò's poetry frequently refers to panthers.
    • Ghosts, in the sense of actual honest to god spirits returned from the grave, never show up in the story, but the concept of ghosts and hauntings is frequently mentioned as part of the larger meta-analysis of the horror genre, as well as the general theme of thresholds and liminality. Johnny compares both his mother and a past love of his to ghosts, Posthumous Character Zampanò can be likened to a ghost who Johnny works to exorcise by finishing the manuscript, and Navidson is driven to return to the house by the "ghosts" of Tom and Delial, whose deaths he feels he must atone for.
  • My Biological Clock Is Ticking: A male, dramatic version. Zampanò greatly regrets that he never had a son. In one of Zampanò's weird diary entries, he writes "a sun to read the dark". The "u" is crossed out and replaced with an "o", while the "a" in "read" is replaced with an "n", giving us "A son to rend the dark". It's almost certainly a reference to the Minotaur. He also writes a long paragraph about creating a son for himself through writing, which hints that Johnny might have just been made up by Zampanò this whole time. They also could have both been inventions of Pelafina, if you want to take this line of thought even farther.
  • Mythical Motifs: Lots of them, most of them Greek. Most obvious is the prominent inclusion of the Minotaur and the labyrinth, but Zampanò also devotes an entire chapter to analyzing the myth of Echo and Narcissus as it relates to the scientific concept of echoes and, by extension, the practical and psychological struggles presented in The Navidson Record. More subtle are the references to Yggdrasil, which actually permeate the novel if you know what to look for, as well as all the Biblical references, which are far too numerous to list here.
  • Never Found the Body: Neither Tom's nor Holloway's bodies are ever recovered. While Holloway is pretty clearly dead, Tom's ultimate fate is never given.
  • New House, New Problems: The inner story all starts when the Navidson family moves into what they think is the place that will solve their relationship problems. At the end, after everything they have gone through in / with the House, their relationship is actually much better, subverting the Trope.
  • Nested Story: Hoo, boy. This one could take awhile. There are at least four levels of narrative here:
  • Nightmare Fuel Coloring Book: When Chad and Daisy are asked at school to draw their house, both kids paint a big black square, colored in several coats of black, surrounded by monsters.
  • Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: The children, Chad and Daisy, thoroughly scare their teacher with their black, creepy drawings. Daisy also creeps her father out when she asks him to play with her, at first believing she said "I wanna play always!" and later realizing she actually had said "I wanna play hallways", referring to the House.
  • No Fourth Wall: Sweet merciful Jesus. Trying to figure out where the fourth wall is drawn is much the same as trying to figure out, well...where any other walls are located in the House on Ash Tree Lane. Towards the end of the story, Johnny finds this book. Navidson burns this book. The same book that is describing the two of them finding and reading it as they read about each other's stories of finding the book they're both reading...
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Zampanò is heavily based on Jorge Luis Borges.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: House of Leaves is pretty much Exhibit A for this trope. The Minotaur that is constantly alluded to never appears, the pet cat Mallory simply vanishes without comment, and we never come close to truly comprehending the nature of the House.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Johnny may seem like a vulgar druggie, yet he is actually quite an intelligent man. It is heavily implied in the book that he wrote the Pelican Poems during his travels in Europe.note 
  • Odd Friendship: Tormented artist Johnny and Book Dumb hedonist Lude. They are united by a common love of sex and drugs.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname:
    • Will Navidson is called "Navy" (apparently a short for his last name) instead of his first name by everybody, including his wife and his brother (this seems kind of awkward seeing this brother of course shares the same last name).
    • "Thumper" is what Johnny calls the woman he has the most consistent crush on throughout the book - after a tattoo she has. Though Johnny hears her real name near the end of the book, he never reveals it to the reader.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted with William Navidson and Billy Reston. Fortunatley, the former is almost always referred to as "Navy".
  • Only One Name: Zampanò's full name, if he ever had one, is never revealed.
  • Orderlies are Creeps: Pelafina becomes convinced that the attendants in the mental hospital are raping her on a monthly basis as part of an organized effort to spiritually "break" her.

     P - S 
  • Painting the Medium:
    • The book is printed in four colors, although there are some variations between the different versions.
      • Normal text is printed in black, and the word "house" always appears in blue, including in the title, copyright information, etc. note 
      • Mythological references are in red, as are struck-out passages which are, according to Truant, things Zampanò wanted to leave out. They are usually passages that are at least vaguely threatening to the reader. "Minotaur" may or may not be struck out, depending on if it's used in one of the aforementioned mythological references.
      • Purple is used only three times, but it's supposedly very important. It's used on the cover for the words "A Novel", "First Edition", and towards the end of the story: "[...], that I'm remembering now, [...]" Bear in mind that: a) Johnny associates purple with his mother, b) purple is made by combining red and blue, and c) the story he's remembering is about a mother trying to care for her brain-damaged newborn in the hospital before it dies.. Make of that what you will...
      • The color blue is meant to be used to something akin to Chroma Key. The Chroma Key reference means that the house is meant to be an entity that is projected on to. Zampanò, Johnny, and the readers all project as much into the house as Navidson or Holloway.
    • When the team begins to explore the house, the left and right margins of the page expand and fill with footnotes, blacking out the sides much like the ashen walls of the hallways. These footnotes instantly become recursive, folding back on themselves like a labyrinth; reading only the narrative portion in this section allows the reader to pass to the exit. At one point during the exploration, Holloway breaks a hole in the wall of one room and peers through it, hoping to see something different. A small square appears beside this paragraph, containing a footnote explaining every single thing Holloway did not see through that hole. This square hole and the footnote go on for 26 pages, ending on a completely black square.
    • On some pages, the lines are typed at angles or go around the edges of geometric shapes, with the rest of the page being white space. Other pages fill a borderless geometric shape with text. Many of these pages echo the action of what is happening in the book at that moment. Other pages are blank except for footnotes, akin to a held cinematic shot.
    • Jed getting shot in the head on Reel 10, Frames 192-205 of The Navidson Record happens across pages 192-205 of the book. Those pages are in Chapter 10 of the book.
    • In the typographically screwiest section of the book, two sections of red text are shaped like a key (introducing the Greek mythos of the Minotaur) and a lock (speaking about finding truth in documentaries.) Knowing the mythos of the Minotaur and digging deeper into the text (as The Navidson Record is presented as a documentary) will allow the reader to uncover the true story hidden within the labyrinth that is the book's text.
    • In The Whalestoe Letters, the typeface becomes larger and more erratic as Pelafina's mental state deteriorates, eventually blacking out pages with typography layered over itself in every direction.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Zampanò's death opens the way for Johnny Truant to learn of the mind destroying mystery of The Navidson Record.
  • Posthumous Character: Pelafina, Zampanò, Donnie, Raymond and Delial. Worth noting that the first four are all parental figures for Johnny, and the lattermost is a sort of surrogate daughter for Navidson.
  • Precision F-Strike: Zampanò writes in a single "fuck" when describing Reston's situation. Truant notices and promptly goes into an exegesis on the word.
  • Primal Fear: The house invokes this on many levels. What if you were lost in the dark with no idea how to get out? What if something you couldn't see was hunting you? What if one day you couldn't trust the place you lived anymore? What if your entire understanding of the world is wrong?
  • Physical God: Sort of: at one point Navidson expresses the view that the house is God. Whether it fits this trope depends on whether you think the house is sentient or not, or whether you think it matters.
  • Postmodernism: Maybe the book, is, in fact, the labyrinth. There certainly isn't a labyrinth anymore after Navidson burns a copy of House of Leaves. With perhaps an equal degree of straight and parody of post-modernism. Of course, it's impossible to actually parody post-modernism so the effect just becomes even more recursive which becomes even more the point.
  • The Power of Love: Karen getting the house to let Navidson go.
    • This is also what helps Navidson escape the labyrinth when he gets stranded alone at the bottom of the staircase.
  • Prophetic Names: Johnny Truant, known for skipping both school and work (for vastly different reasons).
  • Purple Prose: Johnny mostly maintains a pretty down-to-earth, conversational style of writing, but some of his flights of fancy become so abstract that they're extremely hard to interpret. His mother Pelafina also has a flowery, almost whimsical style of writing which degenerates into a terrifying Madness Mantra as her illness worsens.
  • Rainbow Speak: In the book, the majority of the text is printed in the usual black but the word "house" is always printed in blue, and parts of the text are printed in red (parts that the In Universe editors struck through, and anything referring to the Minotaur).
  • Rape as Backstory: Karen...possibly. Although her estranged half sister told the world that the two of them were raped by their stepfather, she never confirms this. But it's hinted to be the source of her fear of the dark. Navidson's dream about the well echoes Karen's supposed past, hinting that it may be true and she may have told him about it.
  • Rape as Drama:
    • Pelafina, if you decode one of her letters. That is, if she's not completely nuts and making up or hallucinating the whole thing.
    • Near the end of the book, Johnny rapes Kyrie, though he later states that she simply drove off and the whole thing never happened. It's left ambiguous which version of events is true.
  • Really Gets Around:
    • In addition to drugs, Johnny and Lude's lives seem to revolve around sex.
    • Karen's sister in an interview says Karen, before she got into a relationship with Navidson, slept around, and calls her a slut. It may or may not be true, as the sister is not on good terms with Karen and might be making it up to badmouth her.
    • A trait of Kirby Hook, one of the three who delve into the depths of the House. After he escapes the house and recovered from his bullet wound, he suffers from impotency, which vanishes once Navidson returns to the house.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Johnnie's eyes are so bloodshot they look bright red. Interestingly, Johnny imagines Zampanò looking the same way at several points.
  • Rewatch Bonus: Oh so very many, to the point where it can be said that 90% of the story happens on rereads. For instance, many of Johnny's stream of consciousness rants will make no sense until you read the Whalestoe letters.
  • Riddle for the Ages: What is the house? How did it get there? What, if anything, is the minotaur? Why did Navidson choose to go back? Does The Navidson Record really exist, and if so why is there so little evidence of it? How would Zampanò have written such a detailed exegesis of it if he's blind? Where did those claw marks in his apartment come from?
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The real Delial. Commented on, as Johnny is fully aware that Zampanò is describing a real photograph and weaving a fictionalised version of it into the Navidson narrative.
  • Room Full of Crazy:
    • Eventually Truant's studio apartment has all-black walls covered in random scraps of paper with drawings of empty black hallways on them, homemade soundproofing made of egg cartons, aluminum foil covering the windows, and tape measures on every wall so he knows the minute the place starts expanding.
    • Zampanò's room also counts. Boxes of paper and scraps, some of which are littered onto the floor, and the strange gouge marks all over the place.
  • Rule of Scary: Much of the book runs on pure, incomprehensible nightmare logic - of the primal fear of being trapped in an ever-expanding house that can't be understood, mapped, or escaped. What, if anything, is the Minotaur? What happened to Zampanò. and what killed the cats around his apartment? Why did he go crazy? Why is Johnny going crazy? Why are YOU going crazy? How the hell did Johnny and Will Navidson find a copy of the book in which they are both fictional characters reading about each other's existence at the same time?
  • Rule of Symbolism: References, highlighted in various colors and Fonts, such as to the Greek labyrinth and The Minotaur, to make SURE we don't miss them. Not to mention several more layered references to various mythologies. Oh, and the poem of Yggdrasil at the very end.
  • Running Gag: Half the interviewees in the "What Some Have Thought" interlude are trying to get into Karen's pants with varying degrees of subtlety, including the women.
  • Sapient House: The house on Ash Tree Lane. And boy, will you ever wish it wasn't.
  • Science Cannot Comprehend Phlebotinum: Double Subverted. The stuff from the walls inside the labyrinth in the house actually can be chemically analyzed and consists of normal elements. But the results make no sense in context and only make things more baffling — the age of the stuff varies all the way back to older than the solar system.
  • The Scottish Trope: Zampanò tried to avoid invoking the darkness or the "Minotaur" as much as he could, even crossing it out. At times, the house itself becomes this — Johnny thinks it's what caused him to spill a bunch of ink on papers that would have scientifically examined the house.
  • Scrapbook Story: The book is largely built around a thesis, which itself produces personal entries, other academic works, transcripts, letters, and so on.
  • Serious Business: The Navidson Record. Everyone who's anyone, and most people who aren't, have analyzed, reviewed, or called attention to it. It's also, apparently, an extremely studied film in psychology, and has numerous theories about why Navidson, even though he knows the danger of the house, keeps descending into it. Except that, even within the universe the book purports to be from, there is no evidence the film ever existed, and none of the people Zampanò quotes about it have ever made those statements.
  • Sex Montage: There's a brief part where Johnny reviews a list of Lude's sexcapades of the past month, many of which involve some rather eyebrow-raising activities (golden showers, wetsuits, threesomes, etc.). However, Johnny immediately deconstructs this trope by imagining a tragic backstory for each girl (abortions, rape, Parental Incest, prostitution, and so on). It's that kind of book.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran:
    • Zampanò is heavily implied to have been a veteran of the French retreat from Vietnam that sparked The Vietnam War. His wartime diary entries are broken rambles.
    • Navidson was a machine gunner in Vietnam, which is what inspired him to become a photographer.
    • Raymond is a former Marine, and while it's not mentioned if he saw combat anywhere, the man's intense Hair-Trigger Temper and alcoholic tendencies are undoubtedly connected to his service.
  • Shout-Out:
    • For example, The Navidson Record talks about Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote like he was real.
    • The first chapter quotes a line ("I saw a film today, oh boy...") from "A Day in the Life" by The Beatles.
    • Zampanò is named after a character in the Federico Fellini film La Strada.
    • At one point, Chad is mentioned playing Myst. Bear in mind that the scene in question would have to take place sometime between June and September of 1990, and the first game was not released until 1993. Also bear in mind that the plot of Myst involves traveling to alternate dimensions via books, and an infamous part of the first game involves navigating a labyrinth using only echoes, both of which are similar to elements of this novel.
  • Show, Don't Tell: The Navidson Record is said to have received effusive praise from critics for the exquisite psychological depth of its characters, most of which is conveyed solely through Navidson's masterful cinematography. The irony of course is that the film doesn't exist and we only know these things because Zampanò spends so much time telling us about them.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Johnny. This even becomes a plot point when Johnny makes up several journal entries and then mocks the reader for believing them, saying that we should have at least been tipped off by the lacking of foul language in the fake entries.
  • Sleeps with Everyone but You: Johnny and Thumper both have this for each other. While their attraction is mutual and intense and each Really Gets Around, they never actually sleep with each other.
  • Snuff Film:
    • One of the footnotes describes a film that drew just as much attention as The Navidson Record called La Belle Niçoise et Le Beau Chien, noted for its depiction of the murder of a little girl with "comic reality." The film garnered rave reviews and was universally considered a classic of arthouse cinema... until it was discovered that the filmmaker actually killed a young Lithuanian girl to create it.
    • Incidentally, in real life, the discovery of the true nature of La Belle Niçoise et Le Beau Chien led it to be (quite understandably) stripped of its accolades, which were then given to Underground instead. The awards that Underground won are real. La Belle Niçoise et Le Beau Chien does not exist.
    • The Navidson Record itself depicts three real, violent deaths onscreen.
  • Sole Survivor: Of the three explorers who venture into the house's depths, only Kirby Hook makes it out alive.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: As well as being quite the Sir Swears-a-Lot, Johnny is almost more eloquent than Zampanò.
  • Stealth Parody: It has been suggested that the novel might be so complex and strange because Danielewski is just messing with us.
  • Stepford Smiler: Karen Green, especially after the first exploration.
  • Stepford Snarker: Johnny can have a pretty wry sense of humor, but it's mostly a defense mechanism against the gnawing emotional pain left by his abusive and transient upbringing.
  • The Stinger: The Yggdrasil poem after the index basically serves as this.
  • The StoryTeller: Johnny has a natural talent for this. He mostly uses it to make up bullshit stories about his past to pick up girls.
  • Straw Feminist: Camille Paglia. She's calm and talks about how the house represents "the feminine void" when Karen talks to various celebrities, artists, journalists, critics, and professors about the house, and what it represents, but when Truant tries to verify their stories, out of the two responses he gets, Paglia's is on a postcard that says "Get lost, jerk".
    • Of course, given that Paglia was never actually interviewed about the house, she could have responded negatively 'because' her description in the book sounds like a caricature of herself.
  • Stylistic Suck: As one of his amanuenses complains, Zampanò writes "like a freshman" who should get a C- at best, conveying his scanty insights in a tone of lofty certainty, dragging in basic summaries of well-known subjects, attempting to impress with irrelevant precision and lengthy quotations, and in general b.s.-ing for all he's worth. It's implied this is intentional on his part.
  • Surprisingly Happy Ending: Or at least bittersweet, and only for the Navidson family: Navidson manages to make it out of the final expedition alive, despite the house spawning bottomless pit after bottomless pit and eventually trapping him in infinite darkness. He gets out, the kids return to normal (mostly), marries Karen, and moves away. The house itself is cordoned off.
  • Surprisingly Sudden Death: Jed, who gets shot in the head by Holloway right when he thinks he's saved. "A lifetime finished between the space of two frames", to quote Zampanò.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial:
    • The index of the book feels the need to list several words (exactly one hundred, as it happens) with a "DNE" (as in "Does Not Exist") label instead of a page number. Presumably because these words don't exist. At least a few of them do, however — "Yank" appears in one of the Whalestoe Institute Letters, and "galleries" can be found on page 119. Some words listed with DNE are also symbolic, e.g. defenestration, the act of throwing someone or something out of a window. Some of the DNE entries are flat-out hilarious, cheekily referring to concepts that most definitely don't appear in the book, or concepts that the book itself has refused to dive into.
    • In several pages of the book, there are multiple sidebars that describe what architectural features are NOT found in the labyrinthine sections of the house, resulting in the author taking multiple pages to say "The labyrinth in the house has featureless black walls, floors, and ceilings, and does not resemble any particular architectural style. Picture that. In your dreams."

     T - Z 
  • Tempting Fate: Tom, while alone at the top of the Spiral Staircase, keeps poking fun at "Mr. Monster" and the house in general. When he finally musters the courage to descend the stairs, the whole thing stretches vertically, while the opening at the top scrunches up into an oval before becoming circular again. Tom justifiably shuts up and climbs back out to the top.
  • Tentative Light: The climax. In an interesting twist, Navidson burns a book titled House of Leaves to give him light. And in doing so, he may have saved himself. Possibly.
  • That Was the Last Entry: The last entry in the notebook which is all that remains of an Eighteenth Century winter expedition which journeyed in the same area where the house would eventually stand: "Ftaires! We haue found ftaires!" ("Ftaires" should be read as "stairs", because the old-fashioned elongated "s" ('ſ') that looks like a modern "f" was mistranscribed by one of the interlocutors.)
  • Theme Tune: By Kevin Macleod
  • These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: As evidenced by Johnny's descent into madness.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Well past the optical nerve.
  • Title Drop: In The Navidson Record and one of Zampanò's miscellaneous poems. And not just Title Drop but Self Drop — Johnny runs into a band (the real-world book's author's sister's) on his search for the house which has read the version of House of Leaves originally released online, including footnotes and edits by Johnny and The Editors.
  • Time Abyss: The Labyrinth: the deeper you go down the older it gets. The oldest sample Navidson tests turns out to be much older than the solar system itself.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Johnny's dream where he himself is the Minotaur seems to suggest this.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Played tragically with Lude, who descends even further into drug addiction after being hospitalized by Gdansk Man and eventually dies when he decides to ride a motorcycle at top speed through a busy intersection while high off his mind on speedballs.
  • Tragic Villain: Holloway is as much a victim of the house as anyone else.
  • 20 Minutes into the Past: Published in 2000, but most of the action takes place from 1990 to 1998.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Reston is black and disabled.
  • Ultimate Evil: The Minotaur is never shown.
  • Unconventional Formatting: Probably the most well-known modern example. See Painting the Medium.
  • Unnecessarily Large Interior: The Anteroom, the Great Hall, and the Spiral Staircase are all utterly titanic spaces, far larger than anything humans are even capable of building. The lattermost is implied to be deeper than the entire circumference of the planet.
  • Unreliable Narrator: All of them — there are at least three, one of whom introduces himself by recounting an outlandish story he told a group of girls. He further admits that he regularly makes up such stories and at one point admits that he's altered some of the text he is presenting as truth, and later he admits that one chapter was an outright lie, and then laughs at you for believing it.
  • Un-person: The Minotaur does this with horrifying execution and effectiveness. This seems to have happened, albeit to an incomplete degree, to the entire Navidson Record, and according to one interpretation of the Gainax Ending, Johnny himself.
  • The Unreveal: Several.
    • One chapter is dedicated to scientific analysis of various materials recovered from the house. Sounds like it would answer a lot of questions, right? Well, Johnny says he accidentally destroyed most of the manuscript for that chapter. That's not the Unreveal, though — right after the missing analysis it's stated there was nothing unusual about the materials. (So basically we've just been spared a lot of pointless chemical semi-Techno Babble when we don't get the full analysis.) Except for the part that the different samples were from different ages, up to the point that part of the labyrinth is older than the solar system and is the same material as asteroids. Basically the house is just saying "screw you(r mind)" at any attempts at making sense of it.
    • Meanwhile, at various points in the story, there will be footnotes asking the reader to refer to some document numbered Exhibit One through Six — all six exhibits have no actual content and are just notes by Zampanò to remind himself to write them.
    • Karen Green had apparently traveled the world and showed the exploration films to various celebrities, such as Woz, Stephen King, Hunter S. Thompson, among others, and recorded their thoughts of it, and what the house means. Truant decides to contact these celebrities — all he gets is a letter from a composer who claims he never heard of Karen or the house, and an insulting postcard from a feminist Karen interviewed. And yet, a French-Israeli author had seen proof of the interviews...
    • Finally, there's Navidson's Dream #3, which is described as "more troubling and by far most terrifying" and otherwise made to sound interesting. It's entirely missing, but instead we get the genuine reveal of Johnny finally remembering one of his own nightmares.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Evidently the primary characteristic of the Minotaur.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Zampanò's little documentary... starts to spin out of control, suffice to say.
  • The Vietnam Vet: Will Navidson and Zampanò, though the latter fought for the French in the First Indochina War, rather than the more famous American intervention.
  • The World Tree: A poem refers to Yggdrasil, the world-linking tree of Norse mythology. Whether the implied connection to the house and to Ash Tree Lane is literal, figurative, or just the latest in a long list of mind screws is unclear.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • A dog and a cat are part of the family when they move into the House. A chapter is dedicated to explaining that the House has no effect on animals, and they aren't disturbed by the House at all, in contrast to the humans. Then the dog and the cat are never mentioned again. Also In Universe Trope, as Zampanò mentions in one of his notes that he wonders what happened to the pets.
    • Johnny himself is mentioned in one footnote to have disappeared without a trace, and his ultimate fate is never mentioned. Depending on how one interprets his last words in the story, he may have never existed at all.
  • Who's on First?: When Navidson, Tom, and Reston go into the house to find Holloway, Tom puts the radio to good use.
    Radio (Navidson): If it gets too much for you, go back. We'll be alright.
    Tom: Fuck yourself, Navy.
    Radio: What?
    Tom: Doesn't he go around autographing lightbulbs?
    Radio: Who?
    Tom: Watt.
    Radio: What?
    Tom: Never mind. Over. Out. Whatever.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: Zampanò certainly can't. His acceleration calculation that claims the stairway is deeper that the circumference of the Earth makes the minor error of forgetting terminal velocity. Navidson would probably have noticed something off about a quarter traveling at 65,500 miles per hour, given it would have hit the ground with the energy of a stick of dynamite. Accounting for terminal velocity would make the depth of the hole even greater than the circumference of the Earth.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: Zampanò posits that the house changes its configuration based on the mindsets of those inside it. He describes how Holloway wanted a big adventure, so the house presents itself as expansive; whereas Navidson wanted to find everyone inside quickly and thus got a much shorter trip.

X Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves (New York: Pantheon Books, 2000), p. 1-709.

Alternative Title(s): The Navidson Record